New Year’s Eve, 2021. Tomorrow, we start the third official year of the pandemic. Would whoever’s in charge of such things turn off 2020 before midnight tonight? Please?
2021 seemed like 2020, Pt. 2. The pandemic plodded on, largely thanks to its biggest fans, anti-vaxxers and anti-maskers, who thought the only thing wrong with the pandemic was that it might not last long enough. While shouting about how they wanted to be free of the pandemic and its restrictions, they did everything they could to assure us all that it wouldn’t end. Thanks!
Wildfire season, again, entered and was the Drama Queen that literally sucked up all the oxygen in the room for multiple states.
Between wildfires and Covid, there was a theme to 2020 and 2021: breathing. Call it the era of Waiting To Inhale.
We’re still dealing with Long Covid here, 20 months later. Definitely better than I was a year ago, but the big excitement for me was getting on the waiting list for my health care provider’s Long Covid program (which hasn’t started yet). Now it has a name: PASC. Here’s a hint for those with Long Covid looking for a doctor: ask what that doctor thinks about PASC. My old doctor didn’t “believe” in Long Covid, as though we were talking about the Tooth Fairy. My current doctor? Filled in the acronym and proceeded to discuss the latest research she’d read about. This was the year I learned to advocate for myself. A friend who works in healthcare said, “Always remember this is a service industry. You are a customer and if you don’t like how you’re treated, you might go somewhere else, and we’re unemployed. If you need something you aren’t getting, speak up!”
A doctor is a business partner. You have to work together to improve your health, and you have to be able to both understand and trust the advice you’re given. You have to be able to communicate. You have to know that you are heard and your concerns are considered. If all of that isn’t true, you might need a new doctor — and don’t be shy about finding a new one.
My own personal pandemic is entering its fourth year. I was just getting over a mysterious and scary illness (that turned out to be a reaction to a virus), when I caught Covid. Yet I still believe the pandemic will eventually end. Mom used to say that everything ends, and if the bad news about that is that good things end, the good news is that bad things end. She also said “Better is always coming. The trick is to hang on until it arrives.”
So hang on. Keep masking when you should, get vaccinated if you haven’t, and cut yourself a big slice of slack. This decade has a lot of room for improvement. When things get better, you want to be able to enjoy it. So rest. Meditate. Listen to music and dance around the house. Pet a dog. Laugh whenever you can. Forgive as much as you can. Be the light until the sun shines again. You are more remarkable than you suspect and more glorious than you know. Give yourself room to stretch out and shine or incubate and rest, whatever you need.
And if you’re the person who should have turned 2020 off, you’re forgiven, but please flip that switch now, please and thank you.
It seems like forever since the start of the Covid pandemic, but actually, it’s been less than 2 years. Because this was a new virus, information about it is still being gathered and we’re still learning (especially as it keeps mutating), but there is one thing we know: somewhere between 5% and 10% of Covid patients will develop “Long Covid.” The official designation for Long Covid is PASC, Post-Acute Sequelae of SARS-CoV-2 infection. This is not active Covid. It’s a collection of symptoms that persist after the active Covid phase that persists after the initial infection is over.
How long does it last? Nobody knows yet. As of today, over a year and a half since the pandemic started, there are still patients (like myself) who suffer with a variety of symptoms. Some people get over Covid and are fine. Some have symptoms that trouble them 4-6 months later. Some continue to deal with symptoms a year or more out.
What causes it? Research is underway to find out. Theories include inflammation of various sorts. internal damage caused by the virus during the active phase, or the body responding to viral fragments left in the system after the active infection is over (sort of like having a scary cardboard cutout in your Halloween decorations that you later throw away, but for some reason the trash collector doesn’t pick it up, so every time you go outside and see it you jump, because for just a moment it looks like there’s a scary clown threatening you. Maybe your immune system is running across leftovers that make it jumpy). Really, nobody knows yet why it happens, why some people have it and some don’t, or why it lasts different periods for those who do.
What symptoms are included in PASC? A bunch and you might have one or more. These can include:
Shortness of breath
Racing or pounding heartbeat
Loss of sense of smell/taste or altered sense of smell/taste
Joint or muscle pain
Brain fog/memory loss
Hearing loss/tinnitus (ringing in the ears)/earache
You might experience one, or more, or symptoms changing over time. And much like Covid19 itself, other symptoms may yet be added to this list. When I had Covid, they asked you about a dry cough or fever and that was it. I reported a bunch of other symptoms that are now on the screening list, but weren’t at the time, so they didn’t pay as much attention to my altered sense of smell, joint pain, chest pain, racing or pounding heartbeat, diarrhea, nausea, brain fog or insomnia. Those were added to the list over time as more cases provided more information. It will probably be like that for PASC.
Severity of PASC symptoms can vary. Some people have fairly serious levels of symptoms daily, and others, like myself, experience cycles that get better, then get worse (and every time they get worse again, it breaks your heart). Symptoms can be reactive to the environment. The recent wildfire smoke has done a real number on me — when the AQI (Air Quality Index) is high, my symptoms are much worse. They can also be unpredictable, really bad one day, not so bad the next, or bad for a week then not as bad for a couple of days. No way to predict.
Who gets PASC? No way to know so far. Previously healthy kids and adults are turning up with it. People who had moderate cases (as I did) or mild cases get it. No real pattern has emerged yet, but if you get Covid, you certainly could.
“Only” 5-10% of people who are tested positive for Covid get PASC, and for some it “only” lasts 4-6 months, so why worry about it? Well first off, those figures are mostly based on earlier versions of Covid, like “Alpha,” the original “wild virus” that I had. Variants are here (like Delta) that are much more contagious, so even if it stays at 5-10%, that’s 5-10% of a much higher number of people. 5% of 100,000 is “only” 5,000, but 5% of 40,000,000, the current number of people who have tested positive for Covid just in the U.S., is a lot more.
Also, variants, well, vary. Delta is far more contagious than Alpha. Does it make people sicker, too? Data’s mixed, but it may. Will it leave more people with PASC? It might. And we’re already up to the Mu variant (so the alphabet from A-M). Will one come along that leaves 25% with PASC? It’s certainly possible.
There’s no guarantee, or way to tell, if your PASC will last 6 months or 3 years. For some people, damage may be permanent. We just don’t know.
What do you do if you get COVID and have lasting symptoms? Talk to your doctor immediately! If your doctor won’t listen (and I’ve had some that wouldn’t), get a new doctor. This is a new disease and research is ongoing. You need an ally who, to begin with, understands that this is a real thing. Understand that some of the tests you have are to rule out other possible causes. Some tests are to show if you have sustained damage. There are no tests for PASC itself yet. They have to test for symptoms and treat symptoms. There’s no treatment for PASC itself.
Take care of yourself. Now, whether you have Covid or not, or have PASC or not, is the time to prioritize your basic healthcare and make it routine. Go to bed on time. Reduce those caffeinated fluids in favor of water. Mind your diet. Meditate, enjoy a hobby, get some exercise, support your mental health. See if your Vitamin D levels are where they should be. All of that supports the systems in your body that you need to encourage in order to heal. Diabetic? Watch your blood sugar.
If you do have PASC, consider joining a support group. There’s a few to choose from, including Survivor Corps on Facebook. Not only do they help spread the word so people understand what this is, it’s a place where you can talk about it and people understand what you’re talking about.
Don’t have it but know someone who does? Consider checking out the support groups to hear what other people are going through, to help you understand what your friend or family member is dealing with. Ask questions, NON-judgemental questions, of your friend/family member and listen to the answers. All of this can be scary, but pretending it’s not real doesn’t make it go away. Consider that this person’s energy levels/attention span/etc. are variable, so maybe he’s okay to go to the ball game one day but can’t have coffee the next and he probably can’t predict. Maybe she seems perky on Tuesday but on Thursday she can’t get out of bed. That can be part of this.
And protect yourself and those around you from Covid by getting vaccinated and masking. If we keep going the way we’re going, we’ll get to the Zed variant and somewhere along the line, we’ll create one that is more contagious, more severe and leaves more people with PASC, just through creating so many variants. Plus, if you know someone with PASC, you want to protect them from a “breakthrough” infection, so if you haven’t gotten vaccinated, make that appointment. Keep washin’ those hands, people! The basics (masking, hygiene) are still great protections against infection.
Sending out best, highest thoughts, wishes and prayers to my fellow PASC patients and their families and friends, and those vaccinated health professionals dealing with this Zombie Apocalypse (I know now who’s really on my Zombie Apocalypse team, and every one of them is vaccinated!). This is not easy to have, or deal with. Here are some sources of information:
Looking for a gift for an animal lover (maybe you)? This coloring book features artwork from over 100 artists (including us!) and raises funds to help pets in need. Pair this with a stuffed animal or other animal toy and some crayons, and you have the perfect present for that animal loving kiddo in your life:
We are members of the Pacific Northwest Writers Association and Women’s Fiction Writers Association.
Joey Jones has published and edited many newspaper and magazine articles, radio stories, advertisements and commentaries, and has ghostwritten everything from speeches to love letters. She is a past Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting semifinalist and Fade In: Screenwriting Awards quarterfinalist. She also gathers sound and conducts interviews as a freelance field producer, and her on-air performance as “The Dying Fish” can be heard in the Water Education commercial series. You can read Joey’s political humor blog, Dear Donny: Presidential Pen Pals, by clicking the link, and see some of her artwork in our Redbubble shop, or fine art exhibits.
Mark Jones produces radio shows (like Connections on CapRadio’s Music Station). As Martin Jenkins, he’s been heard on CapRadio’s four news stations, and sometimes—during fund drives—on the Music Station. Mark also writes radio ads and stories, and has sung, acted and directed local theater and TV.
We’re about the story and the process. Do your best work, and on time. Life’s too short to make things harder than they have to be.